February 15th, 2014


The Elusive Perfect Shoot

Having been a semi-professional photographer -- yearbook work, railfanning and weddings for friends and family with pro gear and no pay (grin) -- I don't take nearly enough pictures.

Partly it's a matter of time, partly of cost (film, memory, battery time, etc.), and partly that if I'm not working I don't want to annoy the people around me. When I did weddings, I emphasized the hundreds of candid shots over the dozens of formal set piece shots. But when you're working, you can be That Guy with multiple cameras and flashes. I thought of that last night at the Classic Pairings Valentine's dinner at GVSU. And I thought of it again reading the piece that follows.

They took four real women, did a professional photo shoot on them and then Photoshopped them.

The women were surprised by the results. I wasn't.

At some point they crossed that uncanny valley and stopped being themselves.

So part of the problem is the falsity of the image culture, a point driven home by another piece I read today on how a transitioning trans person wasn't prepared for the assault by the image culture and the unobtainability of a mythical perfection.

Then there's the technical game.

One thing I point out, as both a photographer and a physicist, is that most people HATE pictures of themselves. "Oh I don't take good pictures." Actually, most of the time it's that the photo doesn't match the face in the mirror. That's right, the photo doesn't match the mirror image you're used to seeing. The parts on the wrong side, the tilt of the head, all the ways we are not totally bilaterally symmetric. On a computer I can flip someone's picture so it "looks right" and much of the time they like it a lot more.

I don't Photoshop, instead using other graphics programs. But I have experimented on "cleaning" up pictures. Sometimes it's necessary. But often it flattens features and makes it look fake. When I did wet photography, I was pretty good at retouching 35mm negatives with a one bristle brush. But I quickly established that I would only use this skill for the forces of good -- repairing physical damage to the negative. In high school I would take one of junior photographer's negative strips, drop the 5 or 6 frames of Tri-X on the gritty floor of our darkroom, grind my leather soled shoes on it, then proceed to make a usable print from the supposedly destroyed photograph.

Thin people out? Get rid of facial and tan lines? Freckles? There's a reason why Playboy uses huge 8x10 or larger view cameras for centerfold and airbrush artists worked on prints. I preferred the reality of a well shot Kodachrome 64 Professional or Ektachrome 200 Professional transparency or the true color representation of Vericolor III professional or the hyper B&W contrast of Kodak 2475 Recording Film -- straight up, minimal manipulation. I want color or rich black & white tones and focus, composing.

It's probably why many of the rag trade beauty shoots turn me off and I vomit on nearly all Instagram manipulated photos.

Irony is, of course, that I enjoy beautiful and dramatic photographs. The LJ/DW icon above? I call it The Perfect Shoot of Kate Winslet. Though for me it's the color palette as much as the smoothing softness of the portrait -- the stray hairs adding random normalness.

And if you want a good picture of Dr. Phil, get it tight enough to crop out the gut, get a smile and focus on the sparkly blue eyes and the hat -- those are my best side. (grin) Beyond that, give me reality.

Dr. Phil


The Miracle on Ice. 22 February 1980. Lake Placid NY USA. The American hockey team, then composed of collegiate athletes, beat the Soviet Union's Red Army hockey team 4-3 at the Winter Olympics. It has been described as one of the greatest hockey games in history.

Most people forgot that USA beat the Soviets in 1960 at the Squaw Valley games.

Most people don't remember that wasn't the gold medal game. USA took the gold against Finland, the Soviets the silver against Sweden.

Saturday 15 February 2014 may be a near epic of its own. The Russians were pissed to lose to Canada in Vancouver. Restoring Russia's rightful -- or at least well-deserved -- place at the first Winter Games in Russia for both figure skating and ice hockey is Important to the Russians. Today's meeting in Sochi was a total sellout and a home crowd. The veteran heavily NHL teams were ready.

Live coverage began at 7:30am EST. But it's Saturday morning, and I wasn't getting up that early. So when I sat down to breakfast and Car Talk on NPR this morning and turned on the TV at 10:01am, I was pleased to see the game was still on.

Even better, it was tied 2-2 in OT with 2 seconds left. The scoring had gone Russia, USA, USA, Russia. Tied and both teams had led, both teams had come from behind. On to the shootout.

Of the shots, one Team USA player had six of the shots. Alternating, either both teams scored or neither. Until the ultimate end.

USA wins 3-2.

It's said that the winner of this game will likely win the bracket. Maybe. But thirty plus years from now, how many people will remember this game as when the Americans beat the Russians in the gold medal game?

Or maybe we beat the Soviets. Again. (grin)

Dr. Phil